Dutton Institute Blog

Mathpix Snip – A Tool for an Easy and Fast Way to Create Math Equations Using LaTex.

Here are some highlights of the tool:

  • Mathpix Snip is free (up to 50 snips per month)
  • Original equations can be typed or handwritten and put into applications such as Canvas and Microsoft Office
  • Mathpix Snip works with MacOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android
  • The goal of Mathpix Snip is to save you time
  • Setting up a Mathpix Snip account is easy and free (up to 50 equations per month)
  • Snips can be edited (if needed) before the LaTex is complete
  • LaTex can be read by screen readers for users who are visually impaired
  • Snips can also be copied as .png files

Watch this demo on YouTube to see MathPix Snip copy text from a pdf:

Watch this demo on YouTube to see the many different kinds of formats and equations it can capture.


Once you have your math equation in LaTex, simply follow these steps:

Step 1: Open the editor in Canvas where you want your math equation to appear (this example is in a quiz question) and click on the Insert Math editing tool. 

Insert the Math Equation in the editor

Step 2: Switch to Advanced View to paste the LaTex into the editor.

Switch to Advanced View

Step 3: Paste LaTex and click Insert Equation

Paste equation and click Insert Equation

Step 4: View Equation and add any surrounding details that are needed.

Final view of equation in editor

Contact Jane Sutterlin (jes17@psu.edu) if you want to see how we've used this tool in Dutton.

Metacognition - What is it, Anyway?

man thinking

Metacognition is one of those education buzz words we hear when folks are talking about teaching and learning, but what is it? And is this something I should be adding to my classroom?  The simple answer is yes. Metacognition, simply put, is the ability to reflect on what you know and what you don’t. Students who capitalize on metacognition are able to recognize when they don’t know something and fill in the gaps by relearning or practicing a skill to become proficient. Not all students are naturally good at reflecting on their own learning, can get frustrated with poor exam grades, and may even feel they will never be "good" at certain topics.  

There are ways we can help students by actively engaging them in our classes (see previous blog post for ideas), but a critical component of metacognition is feedback. Feedback is what allows students to know if they understand the content or not. Learning is more efficient when students are aware of what they know and what they don’t. Unfortunately, students are sometimes overconfident when they predict or assess their own understanding, especially when their go-to study strategies include re-reading lecture materials or the textbook.  

The good news is that research-backed recommendations for helping students improve their metacognition are not difficult to incorporate in your class and will not add to your current grading workload.

Here is an activity that can be added to every class and can help students improve their metacognition and their exam scores.  

After every class, ask the following questions:

  1. On a scale from 1 (very unclear) to 4 (very clear), how would you rate your overall understanding of today’s class?
  2. What are two things you learned in today’s class?
  3. One a scale from 1 (not confident) to 4 (very confident), how confident are you that the two things you just wrote down are correct?
  4. What concepts from today’s class did you find difficult to understand?
  5. Specifically, what will you do to improve your understanding of the concepts that were difficult?

Here is another activity that takes minimal effort to create but that can help students enormously. With practice, students will be able to create this kind of activity for themsleves.

After class, provide students with key objectives or essential questions they should be able to answer from the lesson.

  1. Before students write answers to the questions, have them evaluate their confidence in their ability to answer. 
    • If they know an answer, have them put a star next to the question
    • If they don’t know an answer or are unsure, have them put a question mark next to the question
  2. Have students retrieve (from memory) all the answers for the questions they identified with stars.
  3. For questions with question marks, have students refer to their notes or course content to answer.
  4. Have students return to the questions they answered from memory (the starred questions) and verify from their notes or text if their answers are correct. 

Students can use these activities spaced throughout the course. Submitting these activities for minimal points could help motivate reluctant students to participate and may also provide some insight into what areas might be challenging for them.  


Agarwal, P.K., & Bain, P.M. 2019. Powerful Teaching, Unleash the Science of Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass (available at the Penn State Library)

image credit: Pixabay.com

~ Reach out to Jane Sutterlin (jes17@psu.edu) for questions or further discussion.

Adding engagement to your classroom

To ensure that learning is engaging, find teaching methods that provide opportunities for students that are authentic, are inquiry-based, leave room for collaboration, and leverage technology to help students have the best experience. (Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, 2014). The strategies listed here are all ways to add engagement in a student-centered manner. All of these options are examples of active learning. Instructions have been added for in-person, remote synchronous and multiple audience classes.


Lightboard recording gives students the opportunity to self-review

Do you find yourself explaining the same thing over and over? Try recording on a lightboard. A lightboard is a clear piece of glass that faculty write on while facing the camera. Students can see both your face and the diagrams and equations you are showing them. People often ask, “Do you need to write backwards?” Nope, the image is flipped electronically.

There is a lightboard studio for EMS faculty in 4 Hosler. A media specialist at the studio will handle the technical aspects so you can focus on teaching. The video will be uploaded to Youtube or Kaltura, and from there you can pop it right into Canvas.

The EMS faculty studio is available by appointment by contacting facultystudio@e-education.psu.edu.

For more information, check out The EMS Faculty Studio webpage, or stop by 4 Hosler.

For tips, tricks and other University Park lightboard locations, visit this Using Lightboard to Create Videos page.



How to create an inclusive online class

Text bubble with the words "Watch Your Language! What you say matters."

At Penn State, we talk about the “All In” initiative ~ a commitment to diversity and inclusion in all areas of the University. This includes our online classrooms. Here are some ways to use language to create diverse and inclusive classroom environments for all students.

P.S. These tips are good for traditional face-to-face classrooms as well!

Why is inclusivity important?

As educators, we strive to create learning environments where all students feel welcome and included as equal participants with their peers. Thus, the language we use should exhibit respect and sensitivity to all students, regardless of background, gender, culture, etc. Such considerations are particularly important in online education, where our students may come from a diverse population of intersecting identities.

Recognize and acknowledge your bias

Now, your first reaction might be, “I’m not biased.” But the term “bias” just means how you see and relate to the world around you, and it’s a product of your experiences, culture, and values. Most of us come to our classrooms from a typically Western experience and use Western names, examples, stories, etc. Think about how you present content and how your presentation might be viewed by someone with a completely different set of life experiences. Does that analogy comparing an American football play and a natural physical process necessarily translate for someone from another country who knows nothing about American football? I encourage you to spend some time before writing content, announcements, emails, essay questions, word problems, quiz questions, etc. thinking about how to be more inclusive.

Here are just a few examples of small changes that can make your classroom more inclusive:

Use universal phrases

  • When using American idioms, explain them. Not everyone in your class is an American and will understand typically American phrases.
  • Avoid binaries like black/white, male/female, gay/straight.

Use gender-neutral phrases

  • Use generic greetings like Dear students, Good Morning Folks, etc. when addressing the class in emails, announcements, video conferences, etc.
  • Do not assume someone’s gender based on name alone. One way to clarify this is to introduce yourself using your pronouns (Hi! My name is Jennifer and I use she/her/hers pronouns). Ask students to share the name and pronouns they would like the class to use. Note that the singular pronoun “they” is an acceptable pronoun according to Merriam-Webster and the Penn State style manual.
  • When giving examples, be cognizant of being stereotypical about gender. For example, don't only use male pronouns/names when talking about a blacksmith or female pronouns/names when referring to a teacher.

Use inclusive examples/assessment

Look for ways to include or portray inclusion in your examples, assessments, written content, and images.

  • Use a variety of ethnic and gender-neutral names.
  • Include a variety of people in your examples and word problems. ie. include people who are differently abled, people from non-western culture, same-sex couples, etc.
  • Use a variety of current events or historical examples. Avoid using all Western examples.

Other word choices

Be aware of the words you use and how they might alienate, misrepresent, or offend some groups of people. For example, use:

  • significant other rather than wife/husband
  • differently abled rather than disabled
  • visually impaired rather than blind
  • winter break rather than Christmas break
  • people of color rather than minorities
  • etc.

Using inclusive language is more than “political correctness.” Inclusivity is about respecting and celebrating people’s differences and including those differences in their educational process. Studies show that increasing inclusivity eliminates unintentional barriers that may hamper a student’s ability to relate to you and to the material, which in turn increases their engagement and learning.

Again, these are just a few examples to get you thinking about how your language can create an inclusive classroom environment. I would love to hear your ideas about how to do this well. Please send your thoughts and ideas to jls164@psu.edu.

~ Jennifer Babb


Single-Page Display LTI

Last month, three of my fellow learning designers and I made a presentation at Penn State's Canvas Day on a realtively new innovation that we utilize in several online courses called the Course Content Selector, which is our Single-Page Display LTI.

What is LTI and what does it do?

LTI is an abbreviation for Learning Tools Interoperability, which is a standard published by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. LTI allows programmers to integrate two separate systems to work seamlessly together, in our case Drupal, our department's Content Management System with Canvas, the University's chosen Learning Management System. If you want to learn more about how our programming team created the LTI, we can put you into contact with Tim Bracken for the technical explanation.

Why was it developed?

That is a simple question to answer, we developed the LTI to enhance our student's online learning experience and our faculty's teaching experience. 

What does the Single-Page Display LTI do exactly?

Our LTI simplifies course navigation by streamlining all of the online course materials into one spot for students - Canvas. All students need to keep track of is the next button! The LTI allows content pages, files, linked websites, discussions, activities and assessments to all flow together into one easy to follow stream. An added benefit of the LTI is that it also allows us to continue to offer our courses as Open Educational Resources (OER) without requiring duplication of effort when anything needs to be revised or fixed or updated. Our designers aren't limited in their course designs because we can continue to develop our content in Drupal using everything that is available to us. 


What is OER?

For anyone unaware of what OER is, Penn State’s working definition of Open Educational Resources (PSU-OER) is any type of educational materials that are available to the university community with little or no cost. It may also be the case with PSU-OER that the nature of these open materials means that students, faculty, and staff can legally and freely copy, use, adapt, and re-share them within the university community.



Can You Hear Me?


How to be heard in the classroom

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, approximately 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. There are some very simple ways to ensure your students will hear you. I will list a few below.

  • Use a microphone, even if you think you have a loud voice! The definition of "loud enough" is for your students to make, not you.
  • Realize that many people, not just those that are legally deaf, look at your lips to figure out what you are saying. Therefore, have your face and mouth visible when speaking and:
    • avoid covering your lips with a microphone, hands, book, beard, etc.
    • avoid chewing gum or sucking on mints while lecturing
    • avoid talking with your back to students
    • If possible, arrange the classroom so students are able to see everyone’s lips.
  • Repeat questions (in microphone) before answering.
  • Provide class notes so students with hearing loss can concentrate on hearing and listening rather than taking notes.
  • Choose videos with captions.
  • Allow students to record your lecture.
  • Allow students to choose their own seats.


~ Jennifer Babb

Zoom local recording no longer an option?

When recording a Zoom session (for example to record an office hours session or a screen capture demonstration) it is nice to have choices on whether the recording should be stored in the cloud (for easy sharing from Zoom or Kaltura) or to your local computer (for editing and higher resolution video).  To choose cloud or local recording options, you can select the carrot icon next to the record button in the Zoom toolbar and choose where to record the video.

use the carrot to select record to the cloud or record to the local computer

If you do not have options, check your zoom settings and make sure local recording is turned on.

One way to get to your settings is to sign in to the Zoom portal at: https://psu.zoom.us/ using your PSU access account.

1. Click 'Meeting Settings
2. In the Recording tab, navigate to the Local Recording option and verify that the setting is enabled.
3. If the setting is disabled, click the toggle to enable it. If a verification dialog displays, choose Turn On to verify the change.

see text for directions

Note: If the option is grayed out and you can not toggle it on, it has been locked at either the group or account level, and you will need to contact the PSU helpdesk (helpdesk@psu.edu or 814-865-HELP (4357)) to turn it on.



Plagiarize-Proof Your Writing Assignments

Plagiarism is a big concern in higher education. In the article linked below from a recent issue of Faculty Focus, Christine Moore provides four practical strategies for fighting plagiarism in your course before any students cheat. It's a quick ready, but contains valuable information especially for faculty who use writing assignments in their courses.

Plagiarize-Proof Your Writing Assignments


Creating an Engaging Presentation

Members of the Dutton Learning Design team recently produced the following video, entitled Creating an Engaging Presentation, for the Online Learning Consortium. This 2 minute 34 second video shares tips for getting your participants eager and excited about your topic.   It's not all about the slides...keep it conversational and plan ways to engage your audience right from the start!